Friday, February 27, 2015

Fresh Book Club suggestions for when it's your turn to pick (from a new book clubber)

I find myself tongue-tied and self-conscious when it comes to discussing books out loud; for some reason writing about them is fine but the prospect of hearing my voice talk about them is intimidating. I read a lot and I read quickly, so I tend to not get much deeper into any sort of literary analysis than "Like" or "Dislike" or "yes I read that and vaguely recall liking it but couldn't recall the plot if my life depended on it". This is perhaps why I have avoided book clubs -- until now. I now belong to a secret literary coterie of five women who love reading, and like to talk to people about the things they are reading, and to share recommendations, and so on, therefore it seemed logical to organize this somehow--for efficiency's sake?--into a monthly gathering of souls who have read the same book and vow to talk about the experience (with drinks, snacks). My hope for book club? To try to slow myself down and to savor what I read, and to really take in what others have to say about the books we read. And to have fun, of course.

Ali Smith's How to be Both

Critically-acclaimed, Booker-finalist, bicameral* How to be Both is Ali Smith's 6th novel and comes with a peculiar feature: two different versions of the book were published. Half of the books begin the story from the perspective of Francescho, a 15th century Italian painter, the other half from the POV of Georgia, a 21st century teenage girl in London. While the two versions are identical in words and page count, the only difference being that part I and part II are reversed, how their stories will intertwine is affected by the switch, giving the reader quite a different experience depending on the version they happen to end up with. (I had to compare it to those "Choose your own adventure" books so popular when I was a kid.) One couldn't do better for a discussion book really. The obvious question "which version did you get?" makes for a good ice breaker. I knew nothing about the book when I first read it based on fellow book clubber/blogger, Ellen's recommendation. I just picked it up and enjoyed the heck out of it, only to find out later that there was much more to discover, especially the real artist and artwork behind the story. It turns out that Ellen recommended it after reading the first half, which for her was George's story, but I got the version beginning with Francescho and fell in love. So there we were, both raving about two totally different books at the same time.

*having two branches or chambers!

Michel Faber's The Book of Strange New Things

People often come in to the library to ask for book club recommendations, hence this post. Picking a book club selection can be as anxiety inducing as talking about the book afterward. What if they all hate it, and me? Should it be something I have  read, or want to read? Can it be science fiction? There's really only one way to find out the answers to those questions. When I read The Book of Strange New Things I immediately wanted to talk to people about it. I felt like I missed something big in it, like I just couldn't put my finger on something the author wanted to say. I sped through it to get to find out the ending, but often the end isn't the point and you have to back up a little. So I took a chance and suggested it for book club.

This book is and isn't science fiction. It is in the sense that it's in space, there's some light space travel briefly mentioned, and there are space beings involved. ("Aliens" seems inappropriate since the humans in this case would be the aliens I suppose.) It is not really sci-fi in the sense that it doesn't involve the kind of world building and fantastic technology that the more zealous fans of the genre enjoy. Robert Heinlein he ain't. I would recommend it to people who read Kurt Vonnegut, China Miéville, and Margaret Atwood, but also say they "don't like science fiction".

The basics: Peter is a Christian missionary sent into space by a shadowy corporation to proselytize an alien civilization that is curiously receptive to his message. He lives in a human settlement with a complacent and tight-lipped group of engineers and workers and ventures off the compound by day to minister to the locals. Meanwhile, his wife is back home dealing with the catastrophic decline of human society on earth. Peter becomes dangerously absorbed in his work, physically and mentally, widening the already enormous distance between him and his wife. There is mystery surrounding the beings who have requested his presence, the purpose and presence of the USIC corporation, and what is happening back on earth.

Duplex by Kathryn Davis

This would be a good pick if you want to be difficult, or you want to make sure your group vetoes all your future picks. Just kidding!  It's terrific, but it is surreal and quite odd, with a non-linear narrative operating in multiple dimensions. Many questions, much to discuss, and one could almost guarantee somebody would hate it, somebody would love it, and everybody would have something to say about it it--whether they "got it" or not.  It's also short, which your book club will probably appreciate.

A fun challenge for your book group: everyone attempt to describe the plot from memory. Good luck!

Threats by Amelia Gray

I could say almost the exact same thing about Threats. It's also weird and non-linear, weaving in and out of reality so that the reader has to scan back a few sentences like "wait, what?" before moving on. This is a dark and creepy mystery with an abstract love story at its heart. David, a man who was recently a dentist and seems to be losing his grip on reality, may have just killed his wife, or somebody else did, maybe? But is she really even dead? And what are these strange, threatening messages he keeps finding hidden all over the house, behind the wallpaper and in bags of sugar--messages like "I will lock you in a room much like your own until it begins to fill with water"? Your group might really enjoy trying to parse out this bizarre story.

And look: Amelia Gray shouts passages from her book while riding on the back of a moped, because.

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